Skyline Forest Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs for the Deschutes Land Trust's Skyline Forest project.

What is Skyline Forest?
Why is Skyline Forest important?
Are there trails in Skyline Forest?
What does the landowner intend to do with Skyline?
Can the Forest be developed?
What is a Community Forest?
What is a working forest?
What is a Community Forest Authority (CFA)?
If the CFA is used, would Deschutes County tax payers bear the burden of this CFA?
Who will own these working forest?
What is a TIMO?
What is "sustainable forestry" and what does it mean?
Is the forest currently accessible by the public?
What about other forests owned by Whitefish Cascade Forest Resources, LLC?
What is The Conservation Fund?

 

What is Skyline Forest?

It’s a 33,000 acre (50 sq mile) tree farm west of Bend and southwest of Sisters that has historically been known as the Bull Springs Tree Farm.  The property has been a commercial tree farm for roughly 80 years and contains low elevation deer winter range as well as the green foothills below the high Cascades.  The name “Skyline Forest” refers to the community’s vision for Bull Springs as a Community Forest that is permanently protected, sustainably managed and accessible to the public for the long-term benefit of our local communities.


Why is Skyline Forest important?  

Skyline Forest contains important wildlife habitat and an essential migration corridor for mule deer and elk moving between summer and winter range. For our local community, Skyline Forest comprises a major part of Central Oregon's most cherished view, as well as the ability to protect local mill jobs and unprecedented recreational opportunities for hiking, horse and mountain bike trails. Skyline Forest also offers unique educational opportunities for local students, including the forestry programs of Central Oregon Community College and the School of Forestry at Oregon State University.

Are there trails in Skyline Forest?

Having been utilized by generations of equestrians, hunters, and more recently mountain bikers and hikers, an extensive, but informal network of trails has developed. With consent of the landowner, the Land Trust utilizes many of these trails, as well as the extensive logging road network for the tours we offer. However, neither the Land Trust, nor the landowner maintains the trails or roads for the public, so users should access them cautiously.


What does the landowner intend to do with Skyline?

Historically, Skyline Forest's owners have vowed the property exclusively as a timberland. More recent owners have explored the potential for developing Skyline Forest for residential housing. Fidelity National Timber, the Deschutes Land Trust and a local land use watchdog, Central Oregon Landwatch jointly developed state legislation enacted in June of 2009, which would allow Fidelity (or its successor) to develop a 282 home subdivision on 1,200 acres on the north end of Skyline Forest, in exchange for selling 30,000 acres of Skyline Forest and 34,700 acres of the Gilchrist Tree Farm (running along the Little Deschutes River between Gilchrist and LaPine) to the Land Trust at the “timber” value, rather than “development” value, as well as donating a conservation easement on an additional 1,800 acre to serve as a buffer between the Skyline Community Forest and Fidelity’s subdivision. However, because Fidelity’s anticipated “return on investment” comes from development and sale of the subdivision, rather than the sale of land to the Land Trust at timber values, the Land Trust always assumed that Fidelity would delay utilizing the legislation until the economy began to revive. The 2009 legislation provided Fidelity or its successors up to 5 years to initiate the sale to the Land Trust. While the 2009 legislation has now lapsed, without the landowner striking a deal with the Land Trust, the pathway for conserving Skyline is again uncertain. For the time being, Whitefish Cascade appears to be focused on managing the forest for timber production.


Can the Forest be developed?

Current state and county land use regulations limit the type and amount of development today. Recent fires have highlighted for the community the risks and costs of allowing development within Skyline Forest. However, landuse regulations can and likely will change over time and if Skyline Forest were to be broken up it would be nearly impossible to put it back together. Unfortunately, the combination of investor expectations, the proximity of Skyline Forest to growing urban areas (Bend and Sisters) and the loss of local timber mill infrastructure makes Skyline relatively unattractive for most commercial timber companies looking to manage for timber production.  An independent study by the PNW Research Station analyzed development trends and confirmed that while the property would never likely be “fully” developed, a haphazard breakup of the property was highly likely, with lots being slowly subdivided into smaller and smaller units.  It’s worth noting that portions of the old Bull Springs Tree Farm adjacent to Bend’s Shevlin Park have in the past been subdivided, fenced and are slowly being developed.

 

What is a Community Forest?  

Community Forest is a loose term that generally refers to timberlands that are held by or on behalf of a local community and which are typically managed for wildlife, recreation, scenery and sustainable timber production. Community Forests, while most common in the northeastern U.S., can be found throughout the country in numerous forms and configurations.


What is a working forest?

Working forest is meant to refer to forests that are actively managed for timber production.  


What is a Community Forest Authority (CFA)?

CFAs are quasi-municipal corporations that can be established by counties and cities in Oregon to issue tax-exempt bonds for the purpose of funding the purchase of working forests.  State law specifies how a CFA works and the limitations of its authority.  Deschutes County has formed a CFA to assist the Land Trust to protect Skyline Forest, but until a binding agreement is in place, it's unclear whether the CFA would be helpful or otherwise useful.


If the CFA is used, would Deschutes County tax payers bear the burden of this CFA? 

In the event that the CFA is used, the timberland serves as the security for the bonds; any bonds would be repaid with revenues from the sustainable harvest of timber.  

 

Who will own these working forests? 

A variety of different models have been explored as the Land Trust has worked to protect and conserve Skyline. Until a binding agreement is in place, the Land Trust will continue to explore the best protection option for Skyline and the community.



What is a TIMO?  

The acronym “TIMO” stands for Timber Investment Management Organization.  TIMO’s differ in their size, area of operations and mode of operations. However, they typically are defined as being privately held companies or partnerships that purchase large blocks of private timberland with the goal of maximizing their investment return over a relatively short period of time (often 10 to 15 years). TIMOs can be differentiated from integrated timber companies by the fact that TIMO's do not typically own or control their own mills.

During much of the 20th Century, private timberlands were typically owned by timber companies that harvested timber over an extended period of time to maintain a stable supply of logs for their mills.  In the past decade, Wall Street investors have often viewed these timberlands as under performing assets, which could deliver a much higher return if timber was harvested more quickly and the land then sold or developed for other purposes (mining, residential development, etc.).  In the past 10 years, roughly half of the nation’s private timberlands have changed ownership, with much of this land being acquired by TIMO’s responding to these higher expectations for return on investment.

 


What is “sustainable forestry” and what does it mean?   

The term “sustainable forestry” generally refers to an actively managed forest, in which timber or other resources are harvested at a rate or level that can be sustained indefinitely by the land.  Various organizations and systems have been developed internationally to encourage and support “sustainable forestry” and the Land Trust will explore the most appropriate standards and partners for Skyline Forest. The Land Trust's vision would protect wildlife habitat, scenic views and provide public recreation and educational opportunities, while maintaining an appropriate and sustainable forestry program.

 

Is the forest currently accessible by the public?

The 2009 legislation provided continued public access to the forest for a five year period. As the 2009 legislation has now expired, continued public access will depend on the willingness of the landowner.  The landowner has restricted motorized access to existing roads and a seasonal vehicular closure is in effect on the portion of the forest within the Tumalo Deer Winter Range, which runs from December 1st through April 31st.  The Land Trust, in cooperation with the landowner, conducts interpretive tours and hikes on Skyline Forest during the spring, summer and fall.  If you choose to visit the forest during the annual deer winter range closure, the Land Trust encourages you to leash your dog to avoid dogs chasing and stressing wildlife.

What about the other forests owned by Whitefish Cascade Forest Resources, LLC?

At the time that Crown Pacific went bankrupt, they held nearly 300,000 acres of commercial timberland in central Oregon.  While each of these properties is unique and faces different levels of risks, the Land Trust has been working with several different partners to permanently conserve all of these timberlands.  The Land Trust realized early in its efforts that it lacked the capacity to pursue all of these forest lands simultaneously and chose to prioritize its efforts on Skyline Forest, which clearly faced the highest risk of development.

The 2009 Skyline Forest legislation provided an opportunity for the Land Trust and our partners to protect another nearly 35,000 acres of timberland within the historic Gilchrist Tree Farm along the Little Deschutes River, south of LaPine.  Additionally, the Land Trust has worked to support the Oregon Department of Forestry and their transaction partner, the Conservation Fund, to purchase other portions of the Gilchrist Tree Farm to create the new Gilchrist State Forest.  To date, the Oregon Department of Forestry has acquired roughly 43,000 acres, with an option on another 29,000 acres through the Conservation Fund.

Whitefish Cascades' portfolio also contains a nearly 92,000 acre timberland in Klamath County commonly known as the Mazama Tree Farm. The Mazama Tree Farm encompasses land that was historically part of the Klamath Tribes' ancestral home and was part of the Klamath Reservation until 1954. Reacquisition of the Mazama Tree Farm has been a long standing priority for the Klamath Tribes and subsequently has become a central component of settling the historic water disputes within the Klamath Basin.

Together, the Skyline and the Mazama Tree Farm comprise a complex portfolio of timberlands, each with unique resources, challenges and cultural/social implications. The Land Trust will continue to seek creative partnerships with organizations and agencies that can protect all of these important timberlands.

What is The Conservation Fund?

The Conservation Fund is a national conservation non-profit with extensive experience in assembling and financing complex conservation land transactions. Find more information on their website.